On Halloween night, thousands gathered at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for a tribute concert dedicated to the life of artist Mac Miller, who passed away in September from a rumored overdose. Miller’s closest musician friends hit the stage to perform his favorite songs and the songs they’d made together. John Mayer, Chance the Rapper, Miguel, and many others spoke highly of Miller, sharing the memories they had of him with his grieving fans. This concert was the much-needed closure for family, friends, and fans of Mac Miller.
Miller’s death hit my generation hard. For us, rushing home off the bus in middle school to check out the latest music videos on YouTube and watch Wiz Khalifa’s DayToDay vlogs was the thing to do. Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, Wale, Curren$y, Dom Kennedy, and Mac Miller were all in one class of artist. In another, you had A$AP Mob, Black Hippy (TDE), Flatbush Zombies, and The Underachievers. Yeats later, every single one of them still holds weight in the music industry.
While each of these artists were great, there was something different about Mac Miller. What was it that made his music so captivating? Besides the fact that he was a scrawny, witty, funny looking white kid, it was an undeniable fact that he had bars. He introduced us to “frat rap” and showed us how to “kick incredibly dope shit,” all while staying true to who he was. In the industry, a lot of artists get caught up in everything but the music and move away from their sound, chasing whatever is trending. Mac Miller never did.
This is why his death at 26 hit us so hard. At a concert in Chicago the night after Miller’s death was reported, Childish Gambino said, “This Mac Miller shit got me fucked up… we were both internet music kids, and a lot of critics were like, ‘This corny-ass white dude, this corny-ass black dude,’ and we used to talk. And this kid, he just loved music.”
Although the sounds Miller created from his classic 2010 mixtape, KIDS to his recently-released final album, Swimming, are extremely different, his music always felt like him. He perfected every sound he experimented with, which showcased his true artistry. Mac Miller made music that everyone could relate to, no matter where you were from. If you wanted to party, there was a song. If you wanted to cry, there was a song. If you were in love, there was a song. If you were heartbroken, there was a song.
Mac Miller brought my generation through all of these emotions as we faced middle school, high school, college, and finally adult life. We didn’t grow up on him, we grew up with him, and there are many people who thank him for being that long-lost friend they never even knew they needed.
And yet it was Mac Miller’s fight with depression and drug addiction, which was no secret, that made him the most real. Like millions of people, this was something he dealt with from the beginning. On his last album, Swimming, he dove deeper than ever before. Songs like “Self Care,” “Wings,” “Come Back to Earth,” and “Hurt Feelings” showed everyone just how in tune he was with these feelings. Music was his therapy, but so were the drugs which ultimately killed him.
Mac Miller, like many people, fell into unhealthy habits when going through something. And like many people, he had a very ugly break-up this past May. He turned to weed, pills, and other hard drugs in an attempt to erase the problem, but looking for that distraction killed him. The National Study on Drug Use and Health, conducted in 2016, found that “28.6 million Americans age 12 and over used illicit drugs during the month prior to the study.” This also means that one in ten people struggle with some form of substance abuse – including prescription drugs.
We have become content with drugs given their prevalence in our communities. Only when a situation like this happens do we realize how it could have been prevented if we just spoke up, instead of enabling. Mac Miller’s house was apparently “cleaned” by someone after his death, someone who enabled him. TMZ reported that a source close to Mac Miller even said it made no sense that someone who’d already taken a fatal overdose would then scrub the house clean of all drugs and paraphernalia in case they happened to die.
Drug addiction and mental health struggles are becoming all too common, in the entertainment industry as well as in everyday life. Recent celebrity deaths including Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade prove that a better conversation about these taboo subjects needs to be had.
J. Cole said it best in his song “Friends,” “drug addiction and depression don’t blend.” And they never will. We have to speak up to our friends who we feel are coping with life the wrong way, before it is too late. Mac Miller waited until it was too late, and he will be added to the list of great influential artists who were taken away from us far too soon. Even as we mourn his loss, though, we thank him for everything he did while he was here. It will never be forgotten.
*Cover photo by Christian Weber